American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, an exhibition organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts will be on view in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts‘ Upper-Level Galleries from November 1, 2013 through February 9, 2014. During this holiday season, visitors will have the opportunity to examine the legendary American illustrator‘s working process and career through his oil paintings, iconic Saturday Evening Post covers, posters, photographs and correspondence.
Representing fifty-six years of the artist‘s career, the works in this exhibition span from folk heroes and frontiersmen to the turbulent events of the 1960s. A reporter at heart, Rockwell told visual stories with meticulous detail and went to great lengths to achieve precision in his studio. However, he is equally recognized for his trademark idealistic tint, affection and humor. ―Rockwell‘s paintings are infused with a sense of nostalgia,‖ says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy. ―In truth, his work looked back to a simpler time that never was.‖
Signature works such as No Swimming (1921), Christmas Homecoming (1948) and Triple Self-Portrait (1959) will all be on display, yet even Rockwell aficionados will find something new among the original works of art and Saturday Evening Post covers in this exhibition. Photographs, correspondence and the artist‘s own newspaper clippings used for research provide a glimpse into Rockwell‘s creative process. Included in this exhibition is also a 14-minute film narrated by one of Rockwell‘s sons.
Commenting on the popularity and broad appeal of Rockwell‘s body of work, Ms. Kennedy says, ―Although Rockwell was from New York City, he focused on small town life. For baby boomers, he was there chronicling all of the important events such as JFK‘s presidential campaign and the civil rights movement, along with summer vacation and the holidays. He shaped a generation‘s perception of itself.‖
As periodicals and books were the primary source of information and entertainment in the first half of the 20th century, Rockwell assumed a crucial role in creating and reflecting public opinion. The Saturday Evening Post was one of the first publications to reach a million subscribers and continued to hold significant influence into the 1960s. Considering the trajectory of illustration as a medium of communication, Rockwell‘s career arc was perfectly timed.
The chronological and thematic organization of the exhibition tells the story of Rockwell‘s career development, and in turn, mirrors the country‘s own transformation into a complex modern society during the 20th century. Guests will be able to revisit Rockwell‘s familiar depictions of carefree, idyllic childhood for Boys’ Life as well as the complications of early adolescence as displayed in works such as Girl at Mirror (1954) and The Discovery (1956) in a broader context. In the 1960s, however, Rockwell developed a more reportorial style while covering social issues such as race relations and poverty for Look magazine. ―At The Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell worked under certain editorial restrictions,‖ explains Ms. Kennedy. ―For example, he could only depict people of color in positions of service. At Look, a harder-hitting publication, he was searching for greater freedom and new challenges, which is interesting at that later stage in his life and career.
Rockwell‘s first assignment for Look—the now iconic story illustration The Problem We All Live With (1964)—captures six-year-old African American Ruby Bridges, accompanied by four U.S. marshals, en route to her first day at an all-white school in New Orleans. The event continues to resonate as a seminal moment in the civil rights era; Bridges will be interviewed by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the new six-episode PBS documentary on African American history, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross premiering on Nashville Public Television and PBS stations nationwide on October 22. Undeterred by criticism he received from readers for his choice of subject matter, Rockwell went on to paint Murder in Mississippi (1965), which illustrated the slaying of civil right workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell will be shown concurrently at the Frist Center with 30 Americans, an exhibition of works by leading contemporary African American artists and organized by the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez recalls a planning meeting about the seemingly disparate shows: ―We knew immediately this scheduling actually provided a wonderful opportunity to have a larger conversation about what it means to be an American. Who and what defines that notion? Can there be multiple definitions? Is one more authentic than the other? How is this translated visually? Indeed, the artists in 30 Americans are asserting that their experiences are every bit as ‗American‘ as Rockwell‘s images of Thanksgiving and that they also need to be included in the full picture of American history.
Norman Rockwell , born in New York City in 1894, discovered his artistic gifts early in life. Driven by his calling, he pursued his artistic studies at the National Academy of Design and then at the Art Students League of New York. Upon graduating, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America and also began a successful freelance career contributing to a variety of youth publications.
In New Rochelle, New York, Rockwell established a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and contributed illustrations for magazines such as Life, Literary Digest, and Country Gentleman. In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post. Over the next 47 years, he would contribute another 321 covers. Also in 1916, Rockwell married Irene O‘Connor; they divorced in 1930. He married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, in 1930 and the couple had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter. The family relocated to Arlington, Vermont in 1939.
The 1930s and 1940s are widely considered Rockwell‘s most prolific period. In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt‘s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the enormously popular The Four Freedoms, which were published in The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. The works toured the United States and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort.
In 1953, the Rockwell family moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His wife Mary Barstow Rockwell died unexpectedly six years later. In collaboration with his son Thomas, Rockwell published his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, in 1960. Rockwell married Molly Punderson, a retired teacher, in 1961. In 1963, Rockwell ended his association with The Saturday Evening Post and began contributing to Look.
In 1977, Rockwell received the nation‘s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. One year later, on November 8, 1978 Rockwell died in his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.